The European Super League has shown the impact of greed – financial and reputational – on a sport. Lessons from this bungled launch need to be recognised by racing. As the economy recovers from the pandemic, we must work together to grow the revenues by creating a more attractive product for all to enjoy. This summer is looking bright but our long-term future could be even better.
Aintree added the next chapter to the Rachael Blackmore story with a fantastic ride in the Grand National. The festival marked a second celebration of our sport in a matter of weeks that has been brilliantly delivered by both the racecourses and ITV. We are showcasing the values our sport stands for of equality, competition, and most of all passion. The only thing that has been missing is the people.
With crowds set to return to events from May 17 and the industry working with government to deliver support for the whole racing industry through the Winter Sports package, after a horrific 12 months, it is hard not to feel the optimism in the sport that we are getting back a semblance of normality.
That normality needs to extend to the reset of ‘racing diplomacy’, moving away from individual stakeholder group interests. The first foray into the new normal was marked by the Betting and Gaming Council’s report on the sector’s contribution to racing’s revenue – an interesting insight for horsemen.
At an annual contribution of £350 million into racing from the bookmakers, it is hard not to ask: where does it all go and how can we grow the contributions still further?
This is not a self-interested bash at another stakeholder but more a genuine question the sport has to ask itself going forward: should stakeholders fight and argue over revenue streams? At the core of the BGC report is a significant amount of money that, used properly, could support the growth of our sport through ownership incentives, facilities investment, talent development as well as veterinary science. With the potential for further growth in online betting, we should be looking at this together, as a sport with an aligned objective, working with the betting industry to ensure their contributions make a genuine difference.
“When parts of a complex structure lose sight of the bigger picture, it can be disatrous”
Some of that work has already started and been accelerated by the pandemic. More races per fixture allows a more efficient cost spread, is more convenient for stables sending horses to the races, benefits staff and by all accounts generates more betting revenue. Staggered off times have also had an impact and there are plans for changes to the timing of weekend racing. All these tweaks are having a positive impact on media rights payments and the levy return, despite betting shops first being shut and now when open not allowed to show live sport.
This is all positive news for the industry, but the additional revenues need to find their way into the distribution model that supports the owners, jockeys, trainers and stable staff. It needs to work for everyone.
That’s where the Super League lesson comes in. It’s fair to say this new concept, concentrating control of a sport to the detriment of the grassroots, was a disaster for football and its reputation. Racing could face similar problems.
Though the issues of participants’ rights and commercial interests have a lot of legs in racing, there is a more crushingly obvious high-level comparison. When you have a select group of stakeholders acting in their own commercial interests rather than the sport’s, you can get perilously close to ruining the basic product and hurting the people that make your sport valuable, the participants and the fans.
British racing is a complicated ecosystem that needs all the parts functioning smoothly in order to produce the core product. The tale of the Super League is that when parts of a complex structure lose sight of the bigger picture, it can be disastrous.
We now have the opportunity to build back better. The first step is the distribution of the Winter Sports package; let’s be bold in using the money to drive new participation in the sport. Innovation and change must be embraced to test what works and what does not. Now is surely the time to look forward as an industry to the benefit of all.